The Killing: "Vengeance"
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The Killing: "Vengeance"

There’s something weirdly timely about this week’s episode of The Killing. Last week, the news about that other killing broke just as I was finishing my recap, prompting obligatory jokes from the commenters on this site, and in my Twitter feed.  The synchronicity continues in “Vengeance,” in which a mysterious Muslim man named Muhammad becomes the latest suspect in Rosie’s murder, and some FBI agents with guns and flak vests raid a secret lair.

It’s revealed that Muhammad has been making regular visits to the Ahmed household for Quran study-sessions with Bennet. From the sounds of it, Muhammad is not an open-minded sort of guy.  “He doesn’t look at me, he doesn’t talk to me,” Amber tells Linden.  Could Bennet be a fundamentalist in training? I had him pegged for more of the bleeding heart English teacher who made the girls swoon by reading aloud passages of poetry, but maybe not. There were hints of this narrative turn last week during Holder’s conversation with Amber’s sister who, clutching the crucifix around her neck, warned ominously that there was a “war going on.” I had assumed that she meant a race war, not a holy one. My sincerest apologies to any racists who might be reading this recap right now. 

Bennet, having somehow escaped the Wrath of Stan, kicks Linden out of the house before she’s able to glean any more information about Muhammad, but she does sneak off with his Quran.  Following the address stamped in the book, Linden and Holder head to a mosque, where they receive a tepid welcome from the imam. He asks why the police are so insistent on finding Rosie’s murder, but show no interest in a young Muslim girl who’s also gone missing? As for Muhammad,  “If you remain for evening prayer, you should find about 40 of them,” he tells them.  You have to admit: that was a pretty great kiss-off, wasn’t it?

The trip is not entirely unfruitful, though.  Someone slips a piece of paper, on which is scrawled yet another address, into Linden’s shoe  (I rewound the scene at the mosque and it looks like it was a woman who did it. Mrs. Muhammad, perhaps?).  Linden and Holder wind up in a meatpacking facility in an extremely dodgy-looking part of town.  The place is virtually empty, and offers no clues—that is until Holder busts open a walk-in freezer. Just as we’re about to see what’s inside—and, on TV, walk-in freezers rarely contain good things—the FBI barges in, and they’re under arrest. It looks like Holder and Linden accidentally gotten mixed up in a counter-terrorism raid, but the real question is: what was in that damn freezer?

This pivot toward more topical subject matter is eerily well-timed, but, halfway through the series, The Killing is taking an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to storytelling, and now it's morphing into a show about Muslim-American relations. Chances are this phase, too, will be short-lived. As one commenter observed last week, The Killing is desperately struggling to define itself. For proof of the show’s identity crisis, look no further than the list of people who might have done it so far: A kiddy-fiddling janitor, a sadistic ex-boyfriend, Polish mobsters, someone on the Richmond campaign, Rosie’s cradle-robbing teacher, his jealous wife, and faceless Muslim guy who doesn’t like women. Stay tuned for next week, when Holder and Linden interrogate a survivalist militia member, a Mexican drug smuggler and the guy Rosie took to homecoming in the 10th grade. Ironically, the more the show piles on the possibilities, the less I seem to care about who actually did it.

Though its first few episodes had great potential, I’m afraid to say The Killing is at this point an unexceptional—if rather drawn-out—procedural.  Only unlike most TV murder mysteries, it’s a serial drama.  There’s an inherent risk to this format; it’s a little like taking up a wallet-sized photo and blowing it up to fill a billboard so that all the imperfections are plainly visible.  Shortcomings that we’ll tolerate in a self-contained 43-minute episode of Law & Order—cardboard characters, obvious red herrings, superficially “noir” atmosphere—grow tiresome a lot more quickly in this format. 

Perhaps if the characters had more emotional depth, or if the world of the show were seductive rather than just really, really rainy, the show’s languid storytelling would be wonderfully addictive.  (Mad Men is proof that a glacially paced serial narrative, when done right, is about the most satisfying television experience there is.) But, at the risk of repeating myself, I’m still not feeling attached to anyone on this show.

It pains me to say this because, God knows, there are so few interesting female characters on television, but the major problem is Linden. The big development  for her in “Vengeance” is that she misses her flight to Sonoma, yet again leaving her poor fiancé in the lurch. In case you missed it, this is evidence of Linden's Fear of Commitment/Inability to Draw a Line Between Work and Her Personal Life. It’s so bluntly obvious that even Holder figures it out. “You got commitment issue? That’s fine. Don’t be using them to ruin my career,” he says.

I’m also finding it hard to care very much about Darren, despite the revelation that his wife died at the hands of a drunk diver. The campaign stuff is marginally more interesting, although the emergency city council meeting regarding funding of Seattle All-Stars seems pretty ludicrous. The guy has not been arrested yet, end even if he did kill Rosie, how would defunding a program he was involved in prevent another murder? Not to mention, Bennet is already a teacher—why not just freeze funding for the entire school district, while they’re at it?

It’s the supporting characters on The Killing who are providing the show’s occasional flashes of intrigue. Jamie--and his Rahm Emanuel-esque way with profanities--is far more entertaining than Darren.  Holder’s celibacy, casual bigotry and possible junkie past are a lot more interesting than Linden’s commitment issues. Even Terry and Belko, though still a tad one-dimensional at this point, are more fun to watch than Stan and Mitch.


Guilt-o-meter:

Guilty:  Amber
Guiltier: Muhammad
Guiltiest: Belko

Stray observations:

  • “Guy’s right, but he was wearing a dress.”
  • Amber practically gulped after Linden asked her if pregnancy complications keep her from lifting heavy objects.
  • Someone else who’s not progressive? Mitch’s mom: “Nothing good can come from all that mixing.”  Yikes.
  • While we’re on the subject, just what kind of accent was that? Greek?
  • Desktop sex scene with Darren and Gwen: Ew. Also: Total cliché.
  • Speaking of which: “He’s trying to screw you and he’s using every dick in the council.”
  • Belko tells Mitch that Bennet took Rosie to the cage. I’m beginning to think his “friend” at the school doesn’t really exist. Anyone else?
  • After Belko tells her this, Mitch parks her car outside Bennet’s apartment. Maybe she’s the vengeful one in the family?

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